Kentucky Passes Historic Law that Decriminalizes Medical Errors

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The state in which nurse RaDonda Vaught was convicted of a homicide charge after a 2017 medication error has passed the first-ever state law that decriminalizes medical mistakes.

Kentucky’s HB159 was passed by the Legislature last month and signed into law by Gov. Andy Beshear.

The law states, “A healthcare provider providing health services shall be immune from criminal liability for any harm or damages alleged to arise from an act or omission relating to the provision of health services.”

Ms. Vaught was sentenced to three years probation in connection with the death of 75-year-old Charlene Murphey. Ms. Vaught, a critical care nurse, mistakenly administered the powerful neuromuscular blocker vecuronium to the patient instead of the sedative Versed before Ms. Murphey went into an MRI machine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville as part of her treatment for a brain injury.

Ms. Vaught was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and gross neglect of an impaired adult. She lost her ability to work as a nurse because of the case, which sent shockwaves through the medical industry. Medical groups were concerned that the criminalization of Ms. Vaught’s error would also have a chilling effect on others to self-report future mistakes – which has long been considered a crucial step in creating policies that prevent similar errors in the future.

“HB159 will prevent healthcare professionals from being charged criminally for making a medical error,” the Kentucky Nurses Association says in a statement. “That makes if good for nurses and nursing and puts Kentucky at the forefront of developing laws to protect healthcare workers.” OSM

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